Cameron defends Valley

Photo: File



THE new Nationals Member for Morwell, Martin Cameron, blasted the growing divide and inequality between town and country in his inaugural speech to state Parliament last week.

A look at the map of Victoria’s political seats shows that, “you can see the wagons are starting to circle, as the country have had enough of the biased inner-city spend”, he said.

He was referring to the success in regional Victoria of The Nationals and Liberals in the state election, where the Labor Party’s support was mainly limited to Melbourne and the regional cities of Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.

“The (Latrobe) Valley’s DNA is being tested at the moment.”

Mr Cameron said while taking an interest in politics, he previously had little knowledge of the inner workings of the political arena.

“Now, do not get me wrong; I care about decisions made that affect myself, my family and the community where I live. Normally I am a 362-day-a-year shorts-wearing, hi-vis polo, work boot-walking plumber. Yep, I am a tradie,” he said.

“The change to a suit, fresh shirts, a tie and shoes with laces is certainly taking a bit of getting used to. Home is about two hours from here. I have lived all my life and raised my family in the best place possible.”

Close to the beach, snow and Melbourne, “I live in the Latrobe Valley”. “For those in here who do not get past the Pakenham border, we are just a little further down the road, so please come for a visit,” he quipped.

“How does a plumber end up here? How does someone who finished Year 10 at school, who was an apprentice plumber for four years, who continued to work as a plumber up until two months ago, with no political training, get elected the first time he tries? Could it be that people can relate to my journey, and have trust in someone who is outside the political arena, or is it because I am a small business owner and family man who has endured all the ups and downs of day-to-day life just like them?”

Mr Cameron said working as a plumber, clients answered the knock on the door, were happy to see him and say, ‘Come on in’.

“It may be that I am unblocking their toilet or fixing their heater, but they are happy to let me in… after fixing their issue, it normally involves a cuppa, a biscuit or sometimes, depending on who it is, some hot scones. Then the conversation starts,” he said.

“I get to hear first-hand about the cost of living these days: rates, power bills, water bills, gas bills, insurances, school fees – the list goes on. How getting into a doctor can take up to a week, the state of our crumbling country roads, whether I will get an ambulance if I ring and how it takes three to six months to see a mental health specialist and even a dentist – all things that worry most mums and dads, old, middle-aged and young.”

Mr Cameron said one of the other concerns he always heard was the disconnect between the city and the country.

“We country people see all the money being spent on roads, tunnels and rail services for the city, and we are left with crumbling country roads that cost lives, a bridge that cannot be opened in Tyers, and our trains – well, they are called buses,” he said.

“In our part of the world we supply and maintain Melbourne’s power, timber supplies, water, gas and, like other country areas, your food source.”

However, Mr Cameron and the Latrobe Valley was under extreme pressure.

“THE work options for our mums and dads are in the process of being restructured or transitioned from secure employment to uncertainty, and in many cases to no jobs at all.

“The power industry has served Victoria well to keep the lights on and power our manufacturing industry and allowed us all to live in the secure knowledge that when we turn on a light switch, plug in our phone, get our latte and nowadays plug in our electric car, it is going to work,” Mr Cameron said.

“Everyone is committed to embracing the age of renewable power. Wind turbines and solar panels are going to be the way of the future. It is what people want. We are told by experts who have crunched the numbers, processed all the data and done all the modelling that renewable power can stand alone to provide our power needs.”

However, Mr Cameron said the experts he spoke to were less sure.

“My experts do not sit behind a desk in Melbourne; they are the people that work around the clock in those power stations and have done so for the last 20, 30 and 40 years – (they) are the same people who see the demands on baseload power needed to run the state of Victoria. Electricity to make our lives function as normal is going to fall a long way short of securing our state’s power appetite,” he said.

“We have a chance to get the power challenge for the future right. Do not rush it to make political parties feel warm and fuzzy. Do it once and do it right for the people of Victoria. Our future and way of life is in play. Our children’s and their children’s futures are on the line. Let us get it right the first time.”

Mr Cameron said the timber industry was another that was being closed.

“Generations of logging companies are on their knees. They have no work because of decisions made here lock up the bush. Let us get serious; we have the best timber work practices and procedures in the world, yet to be seen to be turning green, for want of a better word, we have started on the path of shutting down other industries that rely on our timber supplies,” he said.

“Builders are going broke, having to shut their doors because they cannot get timber to build houses. Prices are going through the roof. The Maryvale mill are making people redundant, and the white paper – that is what I have here – Australian-made paper, that I am reading from today, has stopped, maybe never to be made again.

“Our country shows, and now the iconic Melbourne Show, are in danger of not having the renowned and fan-favourite woodchopping as they cannot get access to timber for this year and more than likely the years ahead.”

Mr Cameron said the decisions made now were affecting our way of life.

“Why can’t we have the best of everything? We do have the assets to do it. Our manufacturing community in the Valley is nervous. What is our future going to look like with our biggest employers closing at an alarming rate? Why can’t we be the ones to make wind turbines and solar panels and not send them overseas to be made?” he said.

“The decisions on bringing forward the closure dates on coal-fired power stations and locking up the bush have far-reaching repercussions not factored in for our communities and our way of life.”

The small business community had also had it tough.

“An unforeseen pandemic with lockdowns and now the aftermath of trying to reopen and re-engage staff is a real challenge. From trades of all descriptions, retail and hospitality to supermarkets, they are having trouble getting quality staff to service the customers, who have returned en masse.

“The pressures on the owners, who are mums and dads, are off the charts. They have to work 12 to 15 hours a day in the shops; then they go home and do bookwork for two to three hours to comply with all the rules and regulations thrown at them. They go to bed exhausted, and they get up and do it all again.

“Small businesses are closing. They need us to put our arms around them and tell them they are doing an amazing job. How do I know this? I am a small business owner doing this day after day. I had to become a politician to work fewer hours. My job is to be the voice for the people of the Latrobe Valley, to bring their concerns to the forefront. I now work for them.

“I am not a person who points fingers and waves my arms and says, ‘Why is the government doing that? Why don’t they do this to make our lives better?’ If you want to know the answers, stand up. Be the person to find out. Be the person to make a difference.”

Mr Cameron said when he was deciding to run, he asked himself a pretty simple question.

“If I was going to be able to raise the concerns of the Latrobe Valley and make changes, where would that be? Would it be using TV, would it be using radio, would it be using the newspaper or would it be via social media? All handy, but the answer was no. In my mind, the only place I could work the hardest for the people of the Latrobe Valley and push for change was where I stand right now, in this chamber in front of all of you – nowhere else. It is here,” he said.

“I had to work my hardest to get here. Now I have the opportunity to serve the people of the Latrobe Valley. The privilege of being in this chamber will never be lost on me. We have the opportunity to secure Victoria’s future. We have resources that are the envy of the world, so let us get it right.”

Mr Cameron thanked his parents, children, friends, colleagues and Nationals helpers for their support.

“Dad always told me from a young age, ‘when you meet someone, give them a firm handshake and look them in the eye and listen to them. Always respect their point of view, even if it is different to yours.’ I still carry this advice with me today,” he said.

“To the people of the Latrobe Valley, I thank you for electing me as your member for Morwell. For those who did not vote for me, I will be working on you over the next four years. I will be working for everyone in the Latrobe Valley to make our way of life better.”

Mr Cameron said Parliament had major issues to deal with.

“The Latrobe Valley is up for the fight. I am unsure if a plumber from country Victoria has ever stood here and had the opportunity and privilege to represent their region. I hope that me standing here in this chamber can prove to people that no matter what your background or level of education or political understanding, anything is possible,” he said.

“As a plumber and small business owner, I am used to working long and hard to achieve outcomes for the people I work for. Now as a politician I am working for the people of the electorate of Morwell to achieve and secure a better way of life. “My work ethic will not change. The collective voice of the Latrobe Valley will be heard. Thank you.”

Mr Cameron’s speech was met with applause from both sides of the House.